Normally I try to begin the term with an up-beat newsletter – in fact I try to make as many newsletters up-beat as possible, simply because there is enough depressing news out there already. However, this term I feel I need to begin by addressing two issues which come out of my ongoing worries about the physical and emotional health of our young people.
The two issues I want to address are sleep and, (next newsletter) the very specific issue of gym-diets and our teenage boys. These are not random issues – they concern me because they are real problems for children – problems which have directly affected the well-being of several of our students, and which can be solved.
Better health Victoria has this to say about teenage sleep:
"Sleep research suggests that a teenager needs between nine and 10 hours of sleep every night. This is more than the amount a child or an adult needs. Yet most adolescents only get about seven or eight hours. Some get less.
Regularly not getting enough sleep leads to chronic sleep deprivation. This can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life, including reduced academic performance at school."
They go on to list a number of factors that make it difficult for our kids to sleep. Some are hormonal, because teenagers' body clocks run later than children's and adults (and interestingly, Seattle School district is looking into later starts as we speak ).
However, most of the causes of a lack of sleep are not hormonal, nor interestingly, are they a result of homework (an area recently discussed, with some misinformation, on a parents’ Facebook site). Homework can be a problem if the child is working right up until bedtime, but that should not be a frequent issue at Emmanuel where we seek to restrict homework to a maximum of 50 minutes in, say year 6, or 2 ½ hours in year 10. 
Rather, lack of sleep is most often the direct result of overstimulation later in the evening and without a doubt, the biggest over-stimulants are screens, be they computer screens, phone screens, or TV screens. Not that screens are necessarily bad, but stimulating the brain just before sleep is never going to help a teenager overcome the hormonal urge to stay awake! The temptation to watch, play on, work on, or chat over a screen after lights out is huge – even for the best-intentioned, best-behaved children.
So, what can be done? Well, firstly, what will help (and the students won't thank me for this) is a very old-fashioned recipe of wash, warm drink, teeth and read. As Better Health Victoria recommends:
- Choose a relaxing bedtime routine: for example, have a bath and a hot milky drink before bed.
- Avoid loud music, homework, computer games or any other activity that gets your mind racing for about an hour before bedtime.
- Keep your room dark at night. The brain’s sleep-wake cycle is largely set by light received through the eyes. Try to avoid watching television right before bed. In the morning, expose your eyes to lots of light to help wake up your brain.
- Do the same bedtime routine every night for at least four weeks to make your brain associate this routine with going to sleep.
Secondly, controlling screens will help. However, this creates a problem: how do you control screen use if you, as parents, are asleep? The answer sounds both bossy and draconian, but it is simply to remove the screens before the bedtime routine begins.
Of course, taking screens away will not go down well – I recall that I was furious when my parents took my radio away to stop me listening to the late night radio shows (which were the only places that a 14 year-old could hear new—as in punk music—in the early 80s). However, it is not impossible – in fact, I would happily encourage you to blame me and say “I have to do this because the horrible Mr Innes-Hill says I have to!”
I’m happy because the effects of lacking sleep are serious. We are seeing these effects on students on a regular basis: effects like falling grades, struggles with attention, with engagement, with moods and relationships, even effects that look similar to depression. In a sense, to me, not acting is as negligent as deliberately preventing children from sleeping.
So I ask parents again to join with us in trying to help our young people become all they can, and should be.
 NOTE: As our Parent Handbook says, if students are going over the maximum homework time on a regular basis, it is essential that parents contact the class teacher or the Director of Studies/Director of Teaching and Learning.